Last Friday morning, a group of eighteen USM students set out on a ten hour road trip toward Washington D.C. to attend the second annual Power Shift conference.
Upon arrival, they received ID lanyards labeled with ‘Leader’ status before joining almost 12,000 other leaders at the conference, which organizers say is the largest youth summit on climate change in history.
The purpose of the conference is to grow a grass roots renewable resource and climate change movement.
The conference was held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington D.C. from Friday through Sunday. Each of the three days were divided into three sessions which were either workshops or discussion panels.
After the last session had concluded, USM students were free to explore D.C. together for a few hours before the evening entertainment which featured musical concerts from such artists as Santogold and The Roots.
The sessions focused heavily on training leaders to organize their schools and communities when they returned home. “Every panel and workshop that I went to made it worth it,” said Elliot Heerchen, a USM senior who added that if he had to pick a favorite session, it would be the one concerning the impact of agribusiness.
“Whether you are learning in a workshop or just wandering around, people are just talking about issues,” said Heerchen.
“People are talking about ways to set up a bike share in their campus community, or ways to lobby their congressmen to get more wind power to their local [area],” Heerchen said.
“I think it’s just exciting as hell.”
USM students who went to Power Shift said that they learned life skills which they’ll use to improve the university and their community.
“I felt like I was drawing on my training tonight in this meeting already. So its very exciting, I love that I got to do that,” said Heerchen.
Asher Platts, another USM student, said that a lobbying workshop, “just really made me realize how easy it is that I, as a citizen, can go ahead and can lobby representatives.”
Platts said that he plans on using the skills he learned at the conference back in Maine. “I definitely look forward to using it at home here in Augusta as well as for local things like municipal boards of any town that I happen to live in.”
Getting leaders educated, excited, and involved about the issues is exactly what that the conference organizers hoped for. Although Power Shift representatives couldn’t be reached for comment, the front page of their website outlines part of their mission is.
“Not only will we deliver our message of change to our elected officials, but we will continue to strengthen the climate and clean energy movement by infusing our nation’s young leaders with new ideas, skills, connections with each other, and opportunities for employment and action,” the site said.
Although the conference was officially over on Sunday, many leaders stayed through Monday for the planned lobby day event.
The organizers of Power Shift made arrangements for a rally outside of the Capitol Building and made appointments for attendees to meet with congressional representatives to lobby for stronger climate change legislation.
“The day was really exciting. We all got green hard hats and we were out on the lawn in front of the Capitol building. It was quite a sight to see this sea of green hardhats all rallying.” said Platts, who was one of the few USM leaders who were able to stay until the rally.
After the rally, some attendees met with their representatives, but USM students did not to participate.
“We didn’t partake in lobby day,” said Alex Hoeplinger, the USM PIRG Campus Organizer. “It was pointless to lobby for two reasons. One, the timing that we would have lobbied would was 3:30-4 p.m. which means we would have gotten back to Portland at the earliest of 5:00 a.m. With all the snow we didn’t want to risk it. Secondly, the people we would have lobbied [Chellie Pingree & Mike Michaud]… are both working in accordance to what we are doing, so to lobby them would be kind of pointless.”